Freelance photographer Marc Vallee was covering the unlawful 'Sack Parliament' protest in London on 09 October 2006, when police officers alledgedly threw him to the curb causing him to sustain back injuries. Vallee says he was clearly identified as a press photographer.
'The Met's guidelines on journalists were broken,' says Vallee. He added there is 'no explanation of what they did, or why they did it, and I don't expect I will ever find out either'.
The Met issued a written apology on 22 February, saying it 'regretted' the incident, agreeing on 'damages in respect of the assault and breaches of article 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998,' relating to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, says the Met, which still refuses to admit liability in the incident.
'Press freedom is a central tenet of our democracy, so Marc Vallee's treatment by the police is deeply worrying,' says Jeremy Dear, chairman of the National Union of Journalists. 'The Met needs to take a close look at what must be done to ensure its officers respect journalists' rights.'
The outcome of this case is being used to put pressure on the Home Office to highlight the guidelines agreed between the Met and journalists to frontline officers, especially regarding demonstrations and public events. 'More has to be done to protect photographers at the frontline of demonstrations,' says Dear.
'However, the Met is unable to comment regarding any plans of further training, saying officers are briefed on 'hostile recognisance'.
Vallee said it has made him think twice about covering similar events: 'Before I decide to go to work now I have to ask myself, do I want this hassle today.'
Three days after the settlement, the Met launched an anti-terrorism poster campaign, advising the public to report anyone suspiciously using a camera.
Some feel this will only add to a growing sense of hysteria regarding photographing in public places.
The campaign asks the public to report any activity that may seem odd, like photographing CCTV or security systems, says a Scotland Yard spokesman. 'Not in any way is the campaign targeting photojournalists.'
The Met police 'reassures photojournalists they are not going to act on impulse,' adding 'it will analyse all evidence before action is taken - if action is taken at all'. However, photographers remain worried that they will be the targets of increased checks while on the job.
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